The kringle — Wisconsin’s official state pastry — is the greatest Danish-American pasty creation. More than a flaky, fruit-filled wreath, it’s a symbol of the largest Danish community outside of Denmark. It’s grander than a cheese Danish and more festive than a tin of butter cookies. Individually, a kringle is just the right size to feed an office meeting or a large, hungry family. While you’re on the road, one can last for several days of snacking.
The O & H Bakery is run by the Olesen family, who are said to have invented the kringle in 1949. The family motto is that there is “nothing quite a comforting as a slice of delicious kringle and a cup of hot coffee.” The O&H empire has grown to include a few roadside stands and mall kiosks across Southern Wisconsin, where border-crossing Chicago food lovers, curious tourists, and savvy commuters get their unnecessary daily allowance of butter and sugar.
The most convenient location for the traveler, and the only place to get a kringle with a tank of diesel at 4 in the morning, is the Pietro Travel Plaza in Sturtevant, Wisconsin. The bakery counter here offers a broad selection of O&H Bakery goods, including over a dozen different varieties of kringle. If you arrive after the bakery counter closes, kringles are still available in the Travel Store, but you have to get them with dangerously caffeinated Travel Plaza Coffee.
An O&H kringle is a very eggy, rich pastry that flakes like a croissant. The Apple Kringle contains a pie-like filling of local apples. The cherry version is even better, made with tart cherries from Door County (that peninsula that juts out from Green Bay into Lake Michigan). The tartness helps to counterbalance all the butter and sugar. It makes us think of a country-stand’s cherry pie, but interpreted by seasoned Danish bakers.
The Viking Toast Kringle is a slight upcharge because it is coated with cream cheese frosting. But it’s worth it for a three-foot tube of cinnamon-laced Danish baking perfection: a mashup between a cinnamon roll and a kringle. This is a nice variation if you take the Olesen family’s advice and relax with your kringle and a cup of coffee.
O&H ships kringle all over the country, but with distance, the cost climbs and the freshness drops. Getting one from an O&H Bakery stand is a rite of passage for Great Lakes tourists as much as tolls on I-94.